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Memory, Narrative & Forgiveness

Reflecting on ten years of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Im November 2006 fand an der Universität von Kapstadt anlässlich der 10 Jahre zurückliegenden Gründung der Wahrheits- und Versöhnungskommission eine Konferenz statt mit dem Titel:
Memory, Narrative & Forgiveness. Reflecting on ten years of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

PAKH wurde eingeladen seine Arbeit vorzustellen. Der Beitrag lautete:
“A Reflection on the Dialogue Process between second Generation Descendants of Perpetrators and of Holocaust Survivors in Germany.“
Beata Hammerich, Johannes Pfäfflin, Peter Pogany-Wnendt, Erda Siebert, Bernd Sonntag

Still in the 90s of the last century, neither the psychological problems concerning the transgenerational transmission of the Holocaust nor the conditions for a constructive dialogue between the children of both victims and perpetrators were, with few exceptions, investigated. Predominantly there was silence and speechlessness. This circumstance was the motive for a group of jewish and non-jewish german psychotherapists, as well as for members of other professions, to found an association in the year 1995, with the aim to work exactly at this problems, the Psychotherapeutischer Arbeitskreis für Betroffene des Holocaust. PAKH. (Psychotherapeutical Working Group for Persons Affected by the Holocaust)

The subtile mechanisms in the process of discussion between the children of the former victims and perpetrators in this group and how these are transmitted over the generations, were to be exemplarily investigated. The meeting of jewish and non-jewish german members in the small group became a kind of “laboratory”, in which the unconscious processes of the bigger social group were reflected. In the different working groups (literature, supervision, public presentations), it became clear, that every member of the group was not only taking part with his personal identity, but was also a representative of his bigger group, that is to say he or she is a representative of either the perpetrator’s or the victim’s side. How aspects of the victim-perpetrator -dynamics were reflected and staged again in the “laboratory situation” will be revealed. Jewish members of the group saw for instance unconsciously in the german non-jewish members “Nazis”, while Germans looked at jewish members as “victims”. Anger and accuse of guilt from the “victims” towards the “perpetrators”, as well as feeelings of guilt from the “perpetrators” towards the “victims” were revived in the second generation and put on stage again in the group. The role of the identification of the victims and their children with the perpetrators on one hand, and the readiness of the perpetrators and their children to exploit the victims for the purpose to relieve their feelings of guilt, on the other hand, will be analysed. The importance of guilt and shame will thereby be taken into consideration, as well as the meaning of hatred, contempt, lack of respect on the destructive side of the process and of empathy an understanding as conditions for a constructive work. Again and again were we confronted with psychological defense attitudes such as suppression, denial, projection, super-ego-splitting and the above mentioned identifications, which led to painful psychical processes for the individuals and which was now and then more than the group could bear. The knowledge of and the communication about the history of the own family seems for us to be an indispensable condition for the dialogue. To cling unconsciously to the own “victim” or “perpetrator” role, which was taken over from the parents generation, can on the contrary be one of the main obstacles to have a constructive dialogue between the children of the victims and the perpetrators in the second generation, because under these conditions, they remain psycologically dependent on each other. Because of this circumstance, a true dialogue presumes the real will on both sides, to untie by own force the role as “perpetrator” or “victim”.
In our presentation we want to describe the long standing process that we have experienced with PAKH until today and at the same time reflect upon it psychologically/psychoanalytically to show some mechanisms of transgenerational transmission, as well as to determine factors which prevent or encourage the dialogue between the children of the victims and the perpetrators of the holocaust in the second generation.
We hope our presentation will encourage groups of other cultures and nationalities to enter in a constructive dialogue with us, so both can open themselves for other experiences and models beyond the national points of view

Die Gruppe wurde während ihrer Vorbereitung auf den Kongress und auf ihrer Reise mit der Kamera begleitet von Florian Siebert und Florian Koch. Hieraus ist ein Dokumentarfilm entstanden, der am 22.10.2011 im Bambi-Kino in Düsseldorf Premiere hatte. Eine DVD kann über den PAKH zum Preis von 10.-€ erworben werden.